Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Maternity at West Cumberland Hospital referred to Independent Panel

Following the "call in" at the Cumbria Health Scrutiny committee, Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt has referred the "success regime" proposals for maternity services at West Cumberland Hospital to the Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP) asking them to conduct an initial review and report back to him by 4th October on whether a full review is needed.

The progress of the call-in had been discussed when "lead members" of the Cumbria Health Scrutiny committee (including myself) met the Clinical Commissioning Group last week.

At that stage the formal reference to the IRP had not been officially announced but the CCG did give us an assurance which we were allowed to repeat in the public domain that they have not started the clock on the 12 month assessment period referred to in the decision, that they will not do so until the call-in process has officially concluded, and that if that 12 month assessment happens after the review it will not be started without a public announcement to that effect.

This week Jeremy Hunt has written to Cllr Claire Driver, chair of the Cumbria Health Scrutiny Committee, with an update on the progress of the call-in..

He said in the letter: "I am today writing to the Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP) asking them to undertake an initial assessment of your referral.
 
"Should the IRP advise me that a full review is necessary, you will have your chance to present your case to them in full.

"I have asked the panel to report to me no later than Wednesday, October 4."

While the community and the NHS await news of the decision, so-called "co-production" meetings - set up as a platform for the community and health chiefs to collaborate on  how to improve and protect services, have been taking place.

Stephen Eames, chief executive of North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs both WCH and the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle, had been expecting news on the referral.

However he stressed that the trust have already made good progress on recruitment at WCH, particularly in paediatrics. This is a key area for consultant-led maternity services, as a paediatrician is needed on site in order to retain the Special Care Baby Unit - vital in dealing with babies born prematurely or with complications.

"We are almost up to full complement in paediatrics," said Mr Eames.

See News and Star article at

http://www.newsandstar.co.uk/news/Jeremy-Hunt-orders-maternity-review-4829e4b1-c0b3-448c-a585-b9e3bb6c34f9-ds

Quote of the day 20th September 2017

I don't often agree with Donald J Trump, but this comment he has made about the role of Socialist policies in creating the current human and economic disaster in Venezuela is the exception that proves the rule:





"The problem in Venezuela is not that socialism has been badly implemented but that socialism has been faithfully implemented."

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Time to move on from silly claims made by both sides during the referendum

As I pointed out repeatedly at the time, with some honourable exceptions both sides talked an amazing amount of rubbish during the EU referendum.

The truth about most issues was available to find if you took the trouble, and there were some people both for and against leaving the EU who did make an effort to get their facts right, there were far too many on both sides who were far too ready to put out statements which were at best misleading or exaggerated and at worst complete rubbish.

This post about the nonsense from both sides includes an index of links to the "Worst of both worlds" series of posts I published here during the referendum campaign each of which called out one of the most egregious misleading or just plain wrong statements from each side.

Sadly the silly comments still continue. Today my twitter timeline has been full of tweets from "Leave" supporters quoting a study of UN manufacturing data which showed that the British economy has overtaken France to become the eighth largest manufacturing nation in the world, see article here.

Since we have not actually left the EU yet, this would not have provided conclusive evidence of the success of Brexit even if it had been based on post-referendum data. But in fact anyone who bothered to read more than three paragraphs into the press report they were all linking to should have noticed that the study was based on 2015 data - e.g. the year before the referendum.

Give me strength!

Some of the gloom-mongering by Remain supporters has been equally silly.

It really is time for both sides to move on, quietly drop the things they said during the campaign which anyone with a three-figure IQ knows was daft, and start making the real arguments.

Boris Johnson was ill-advised to repeat the £350 million figure and although the wording of his article was far more nuanced and closer to the truth than the words on the side of the Vote Leave red bus, it still wasn't quite right. His article said

Once we have settled our accounts, we will take back control of roughly £350 million per week. It would be a fine thing, as many of us have pointed out, if a lot of that money went on the NHS…”

People like Guido Fawkes who have been claiming that "Boris's article wasn't wrong" overlook that the amount actually paid to the EU is net of the Maggie Thatcher rebate. The figures for the UK contribution as at 2014 were as follows:



The "Gross contribution" line at the top of the above table is purely notional. The actual gross contribution Britain was really paying, before you take account of money coming back, was the second line because the rebate comes off first.

Hence £276 million a week is the figure which would accurately have slotted into the form of words Boris Johnson's article used.

I must confess that I would love to see the head of the UK statistical service start writing to other politicians who quote rubbish statistics and not just Boris Johnson.

Perhaps, for instance, he could write to Jeremy Corbyn pointing out that the number of students from underprivileged backgrounds going to University has increased and not, as JC said, decreased.

Quoting ridiculous numbers is not the preserve of any part of Britain's political culture but we really need to make more effort to get it right.

Suffragette Millicent Fawcett statue gets planning approval.

I am pleased to learn that the proposed statue in parliament square of Millicent Fawcett, the suffragette leader, has been given planning approval this evening. (Link here.)

Fawcett was a truly remarkable lady who dedicated her life to campaigning through peaceful democratic means for women to get the vote, the right to own property and control over their own lives from 1866, when she was aged of 19, until women finally did get the vote sixty-two years later in 1928, the year before she died.

There is an excellent article which Lord Danny Finkelstein wrote in the Times on 4th April about this extraordinary woman and why she richly deserves to be remembered in this way, and it is still available on The Times website here.

Quote of the day 19th September 2017


Monday, September 18, 2017

Hannah Flint on what it is like to be the child of a politician

It hasn't happened so much while my children were at secondary school, but while they were at primary school my son and daughter caught a certain amount of flak because I was the local Conservative parliamentary candidate.

At least that was from the other children, not the teachers. I was absolutely horrified when Colonel Bob Stewart MP said that one of the teachers at his son's school had told other children not to talk to young master Stewart because his dad was a Tory MP.

There is an excellent response to this troubling story in the Guardian - yes, they do sometimes print things I can strongly recommend and this is an example - by Hannah Flint, whose mother is a Labour MP.

You can read her piece,

"Yes, I'm the child of an MP. That's no reason to give me abuse"

by clicking here.

St Bees Parish Council - September meeting

St Bees Parish council met this evening.

They have a slot on their agenda to discuss County Council & Highways matters which I always try to attend.

Constructive discussion this evening raising a number of points which I will take back to County Highways.

Theresa May in Canada, working for a trade agreement:



Quote of the day 18th September 2017


Sunday, September 17, 2017

Terror threat level dropped from "critical" to "severe"

Following the arrests in connection with the Parson's Green tube bombing home secretary Amber Rudd has announced that Britain's terror threat level has been dropped back from the highest level, "critical" to the second highest, "severe."

In the wake of the bombing the threat level had been raised to "critical." which meant that another attack could be imminent.

Today (Sunday 17th September), the Home Secretary confirmed the threat level has been lowered back down to severe - meaning that members of the military will return to their original postings.

Over the weekend, military personal were supporting the police - allowing more armed officers to patrol the streets.

Ms Rudd said: "Following the attack in Parsons Green last Friday the police have made good progress with what is an ongoing operation.

"The joint terrorist analysis centre, which reviews the threat level that the UK is under, has decided to lower that level from critical to severe.

"Severe still means that an attack is highly likely so I would urge everybody to continue to be vigilant but not alarmed."

Sunday music spot for Battle of Britain Sunday

As a tribute to the brave men and women of the RAF, today's Sunday music spot is the theme from "633 squadron."

Battle of Britain memorial 2017

As previously posted today is "Battle of Britain Sunday" and there is a service of commemoration for the 76th anniversary of the campaign at Westminster Abbey at 11am this morning.

This commemoration takes place on the nearest Sunday to 15th September this year, because 15th September 1940 is regarded by many historians as the climax of the campaign - it was effectively the German's last major attempt to establish air superiority.

On 14 September, Hitler chaired a meeting of the German high command staff. Recognising that the Luftwaffe had not succeeded in gaining decisive air superiority over the RAF which would have been a necessary condition for a successful invasion of Britain, Hitler reportedly asked "Should we call it off altogether?"

General Hans Jeschonnek, Luftwaffe Chief of Staff, begged for a last chance to defeat the RAF.

The German high command agreed to try to break Britain's will to fight by destroying material infrastructure, the weapons industry, and stocks of fuel and food. On 15 September, two massive waves of German attacks were launched.

Both attacks were decisively repulsed by the RAF, and the Germans lost dozens of aircraft. The exact number given varies according to which source you check but there is no reasonable doubt that the Germans came off worse and lost a lot of aircraft - the consensus view is that about sixty German aircraft were shot down compared to about 26 RAF fighters.

More to the point, nobody on either side with the faintest grip on reality - which didn't include Hermann Göring but did include most of the other senior military commanders advising the Nazi dictator - could dispute that the fight put up by fighter command on 15th September proved that the RAF was very much still in the battle and therefore the crushing victory in the air which Hitler regarded as a necessary condition to attempt an invasion had not been achieved.

Two days after this German defeat Hitler postponed indefinitely preparations for the invasion of Britain. Hence 15 September is commemorated as Battle of Britain Day.

During the Battle of Britain the RAF fighter command which had up to about 700 operational fighters available at any one point in time during the campaign was defending Britain's skies against a Luftwaffe force of about 2,550 fighters and bombers.

When Churchill referred to "the few" he was specifically singling out the pilots, both British and foreign volunteers, who flew for the Royal Air force, of whom there are 2,939 on the RAF roll of honour between 10 July and 31 October 1940. About half of these survived the four-month campaign: 544 Fighter Command pilots were killed along with about a thousand pilots and aircrew from other parts of the RAF. 

Volunteers from all over the world came to take part in the battle against fascism and the Royal Air Force roll of honour for the Battle of Britain recognises 595 non-British pilots (out of 2,936) as flying at least one authorised operational sortie with an eligible unit of the RAF or Fleet Air Arm during the period of the campaign. These included 145 Poles, 127 New Zealanders, 112 Canadians, 88 Czechoslovaks, 10 Irish, 32 Australians, 28 Belgians, 25 South Africans, 13 French, 9 Americans, 3 Rhodesians and one each from Jamaica and Palestine.

The War Cabinet created two Polish fighter squadrons, Nos. 302 and 303, in the summer of 1940. These were followed by other national units, including two Czech fighter squadrons. Many of the RAF’s aces were men from the Commonwealth and the highest scoring pilot of the campaign was Josef Frantisek, a Czech pilot flying with No. 303 (Polish) Fighter Squadron. No. 303 entered battle on 31 August, at the peak of the Battle of Britain, but quickly became Fighter Command’s highest claiming squadron with 126 kills.

The debt that Britain and the free world owes to the pilots of the RAF and all those who took part in the campaign - the observer corps, air defence gunners, air raid wardens, the plotters, radar and radio operators who guided the RAF planes to intercept the enemy and all the other RAF and other personnel who served in the campaign - is incalculable. We shall not forget them.

Battle of Britain Sunday

Today is Battle of Britain Sunday and it is right that we should remember those who took part in the Battle for Britain's freedom, and that of the world, particularly the RAF fighter pilots from all over the world who fought against four times their numbers.

As Winston Churchill told the House of Commons in perhaps the most famous phrase that master of the English language ever uttered:



Here is a recording of that speech


Quote of the day 17th September 2017

"The most debilitating myth was that the state can perpetually provide a higher standard of living regardless of individual effort.

It can't and it never could."

(Margaret Thatcher)

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Saturday music spot - "It might as well rain until September"

The sort of weather we have had this month has inevitably reminded me of this sixties classic written and sung by Carole King.

I gather that she originally wrote this for Bobby Vee, but the demo tape she wrote was Carole King's first big hit and made her a star in her own right.

Bobby Vee had notched up a major hit with Carole King’s and Gerry Goffin’s song "Take Good Care of My Baby" and  "It Might As Well Rain Until September" was intended as a follow-up single for him. Carole recorded a demo version.

Bobby’s people turned down the song and Carole’s demo was released as a single on the Dimension label in 1962 and did very well. Bobby Vee eventually did record the song in 1963 and so did Helen Shapiro in 1964.


Beating the terrorists

Britain’s terror threat level has been raised from severe to critical, indicating a further attack may be imminent, following the Parsons Green tube bombing.

Police arrested an 18-year-old man in Dover this morning in connection with the attack.

This is the statement that the Prime Minister made yesterday following the attack and the decision to raise the terror threat level.



Police have asked people to be vigilant and report any information which might help thwart the terrorists.

Britain must and will rise to this challenge. The terrorists must not and will not win.

Quote of the day 16th September 2017


Friday, September 15, 2017

Trtudy Harrison surgeries.

Since being elected earlier this year Trudy Harrison, the MP for Copeland, has held 11 "surgery" sessions to meet constituents in various parts of Copeland constituency and had met with a further 47 constituents in their own homes or communities.

She carries out these engagements in accordance with the official security advice given to MPs for their protection and that of their staff.

It is most unfortunate that one of the local newspapers - a paper whose previous work I had often respected and from whom l would have hoped for better - published a headline this week which was very misleading.

Here is Trudy Harrison's response:



       

Time to crack down on abusive behaviour - in politics and in the home.

The level of abuse aimed at people in politics is getting worse and is having very damaging effects.

This week's Whitehaven News had a very unfortunate and unhelpful headline about the fact that the MP for Copeland wisely and responsibly follows the official security advice issued to MPs following the murder of Jo Cox to protect MPs and their staff from the possibility of being attacked while holding surgeries.

This does not mean, as anyone who reads the actual text of the article will realise but the headline did not make clear, that she does not hold surgeries or will not meet members of the public, it means that appointments have to be booked for those surgeries and constituents who do so will then be directed to the meeting place, rather than the general details of  the events being published for any terrorist or dangerous nutter to read on the internet or in the paper.

It dos not matter what part of the political spectrum someone is on, or how strongly you or I may disagree with their views or what they are doing to the country, abuse and actual or threatened violence are not an acceptable means of expressing that disagreement. There is one legitimate means of trying to get rid of someone who you think should not hold an office and that is to vote against them at the next election.

Sadly MPs of all parties have been getting increasing levels of abuse and it is very apparent that this is particularly directed against women MPs.

As Tom Harris writes in today's Telegraph, " We tolerate a peculiarly nasty form of insult when it comes to -women in politics."

He writes:

The rules of this boys’ game are fairly straightforward. First, you wait until an opposing party has the temerity to elect a woman – a woman! – as its leader. Then, after you’ve finished with the obligatory tutting and rolling of the eyes, after you’ve made the inevitable (privately expressed) jokes about periods and shoes and make-up, you start throwing the insults.
Now, here’s the tricky bit: like Just A Minute, the popular Radio 4 game show, you can be disqualified for repetition. The kind of insults you use against the incumbent must be of a different scale of ferocity, of violent imagery, than anything you’ve used on the woman’s predecessors. Current players of this game – Cable, George Osborne, Owen Smith – have really got the hang on this rule: Gordon Brown never had to sit at the dining table with his family and laugh off suggestions that he be murdered, cut up into portions and placed in freezer bags.

As Tom says,

"We need to stop using this kind of language, which is particularly damaging when it emanates from the mouths of those who claim to believe in the need to encourage more women into politics. Theresa May is not fair game for misogyny just because she happens to be doing things to the country with which you disagree."

It's happening to women of all parties and whether the person it is directed against is the present PM, Diane Abbott, Nicola Sturgeon or anyone else, it's got to stop. All parties must crack down on any of their own members who are caught doing it.

I don't of course mean that you cannot express disagreement with someone's policies, make fun of a aft argument they have produced or a failure to add up numbers correctly. But we should not be using violent or sexist imagery, let alone threats of violence.

As I mentioned in another post earlier today, the level of  domestic abuse in Copeland is shocking. I don't believe that any other part of Britain should be complacent about this problem either. A single case of domestic assault is one too many.

It is hardly going to help stamp out domestic violence if we allow the language of violent abuse to be used to carry out political discourse.

Report back on Health meetings this week

I attended three health meetings this week.

Lead members of the Cumbria Health Scrutiny committee met with the Clinical Commissioning Group in Carlisle on Wednesday and with the Morecombe Bay Universities Hospital Trust at Westmorland General Hospital yesterday (Thursday 14th September).

These are part of a series of regular meetings between Health Scrutiny councillors and the providers of NHS healthcare in Cumbria. These meetings are a valuable channel of communication.

To permit a frank exchange of views on both sides the meetings take place under what is sometimes known as "Chatham House Rules" - e.g. the health trusts can tell us what they really think about issues like how much money the NHS needs and how things are actually going - on the understanding that we won't go rushing to the press and use it to score political points. By the same token we can raise the health issues that we are most concerned about and the health trusts know that we are not just scoring points because there is no political mileage for us in doing so.

However this does not mean that the meetings are secret - I wouldn't be in a position to publish this post if they were - the fact that they take place is in the public domain and the list of issues discussed is published in due course.

I don't think I would be breaking any rules if I say that both this week's meetings were useful and constructive and there was a frank but positive exchange of views.

The other health meeting I attended this week was the Copeland Health and Wellbeing forum which brings together Cumbria County Council and Copeland Borough Council in their Public Health promotion roles with a large number of private sector and voluntary bodies.

There are far too many such initiatives going on to give full details of them all, but they include

* Well Whitehaven - an initiative centred on Mirehouse ward (though also including a large chunk of Harbour and with impact on neighbouring areas) to support local bottom-up community initiatives to develop more healthy lifestyles

* Stoptober - iff you smoke and are happy with the effect that this has on your body, that is your decision. But if you want to give up, there will be a promotion and support in October to help you to give up smoking in October.

* Alcohol Awareness - there are initiatives in place to encourage those who drink alcohol to do so safely and responsibly

* Falls prevention - an initiative to help people to look at reducing their risk of injury from falls. this will include a "slipper swap" at Whitehaven Library later this month - you can bring an old pair of slippers to Whitehaven Library and they will be replaced with a new pair which will reduce your risk of falling.

* Domestic Violence - review of the position the police statistics for domestic violence in Cumbria generally and in Copeland are absolutely horrifying. Given that most of those who do eventually go to the police say that they didn't do so until after there had been a large number of previous incidents (most often the problem is only reported when a pregnancy changes the situation,) the real incidence of domestic violence including unreported instances may be far worse.  There is no "magic bullet" to solve this but it needs to be addressed.

Quote of the day 15th September 2017

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Unemployment falls by 75,000

UK unemployment fell by 75,000 in the three months to July, bringing the jobless rate down to 4.3% from 4.4% in the previous quarter.
 
The rate remains at its lowest since 1975, according to the Office for National Statistics figures.

Matt Hughes, a senior ONS statistician, said: "Another record high employment rate and a record low inactivity rate suggest the labour market continues to be strong.

"In particular, the number of people aged 16 to 64 not in the labour force because they are looking after family or home is the lowest since records began, at less than 2.1 million."

‪Midweek music spot - Never Weather Beaten Sail‬ - Campion version

Another version of  "Never weather beaten sail," this time by Campion ...


Human rights and transgender prisoners

I am all in favour of a more flexible and tolerant approach to transgender people, including taking all reasonable measures to protect transgender prisoners from being abused by other prison inmates, provided that approach is applied with common sense and with consideration for the needs of other vulnerable people.

The case of a prisoner who as Martin Ponting was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1995 for raping two girls while he was a man, raises very troubling issues.

Ponting was initially sent to serve his sentence at the maximum security prison at HMP Whitemoor.

However, this prisoner then adopted the name Jessica Winfield, was given gender reassignment surgery tbrough the NHS, and transferred to the women-only prison, HMP Bronzefield.

Winfield then had to be segregated from other prisoners at HMP Bronzefield, though "a source close to the situation," unquote, told the Independent newspaper that reports in other parts of the press that this was for inappropriate advances to other prisoners were not true.

There would clearly have been safeguarding issues whether Ponting/Winfield had remained at Whitemoor or been moved to Bronzefield. It is the responsibility of the prison service to protect prisoners from each other and in either case it would not have been straightforward to do so.

Nevertheless I do not find it acceptable that a prisoner who has been convicted of sexual offences against women sufficiently serious as to justify a life sentence, should be moved to a women's prison, especially when that prisoner was previously regarded as dangerous enough to require a place in a maximum security prison.

I don't write this because I have a problem with trans people but because I have a problem with someone who has harmed women being put in a women's prison.

Quote of the day Wednesday 13th September 2017

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Sunset for Henry VIII

One aspect of the EU Withdrawal bill which has not been given as much publicity as it deserves is that among safeguards to prevent abuse of the powers it gives the government is that the bill has a sunset clause and these powers will expire two years after Britain leaves the EU.

The government has tried to provide assurance that these delegated powers will not be excessive or inappropriate with a number of measures:
  • The bill specifies delegated powers may not be used to impose taxes, create a criminal offence, or repeal the Human Rights Act 1998
  • Most of the delegated legislation will be subject to the "affirmative procedure" which makes it easier for MPs who are unhappy with a proposal to challenge it - although some, including the power to modify exit fees, will not be.
  • The "sunset clause" means powers delegated in the bill expire two years after the UK leaves the European Union - on the current schedule that means they expire in March 2021.
It the bill did not include these provision I would be very unhappy about it - so much so that were I an MP I do not think I could support such a bill without them.
 
However, these restrictions, particularly the first and third, drastically curtail the scope for abuse of the so-called "Henry the Eighth" powers in the bill.
 
As Matthew Parris, who like me voted Remain and who unlike me still hopes to eventually persuade the electorate to cancel Brexit argued in The Times on Saturday, you cannot realistically hope to implement the vast legislative change required to undo 40 years of EU membership without something like this bill.
 
And frankly, the government's going to be too busy in the four-year period when it has these powers before the "sunset clause" comes into effect, using them for the legitimate purpose of making Brexit work for which they are needed, to have time to slip much else through with them.

Nevertheless I would like to hear a public debate about whether the proposed two-year sunset clause is the right period of time - is it long enough to get everything through, is it too long - and I hope and suspect there will indeed be such a debate on whether the safeguards on this bill are the right ones.
 
 

EU repeal bill gets second reading

The controversial EU repeal bill cleared it's first hurdle in the House of Commons commons in the early hours of this morning, with MPs voting by 326 to 290 in favour.

Conservative and DUP members of parliament backed the bill, with most Labour, Lib/Dem, and SNP MPs voting against although seven Labour rebels ignored what Labour is demanding of them this week and voted for the bill: they were   Ronnie Campbell, Frank Field, Kate Hoey, Kelvin Hopkins, John Mann, Dennis Skinner and Graham Stringer.

When first mooted this proposed legislation was referred to as the Great Repeal Bill; now known as the EU Withdrawal Bill, the measure will overturn the 1972 European Communities Act which took the UK into the then European Economic Community.

It will also convert all existing EU laws into UK law, to ensure there are no gaps in legislation on the day Britain leaves the EU at the end of March 2019.

Summing up the Commons debate, Justice Secretary David Lidington said that some of the criticism had been "exaggerated up to and beyond the point of hyperbole".

He said the bill would "enable us to have a coherent and functioning statute book" on the day the UK leaves the EU.

The bill is likely to be "one of the largest legislative projects ever undertaken in the UK", a report by the House of Commons library predicts, with "major swathes of the statute book" needing to be examined to see how they will work after Britain leaves the EUt
.
This is necessary as working out which bits of UK law came from the EU is not at all simple. Indeed, it presents a "unique challenge", a House of Lords committee warned recently, because "the body of EU law is found in a number of different places, and in a number of different forms".

Simply transposing all EU law into UK legislation will not be enough, the government's White Paper on the bill says. Substantial sections of current UK law "will no longer work" on exit, for example because they refer to EU institutions.

Not all of this can be done through the Repeal Bill, so the government plans to create powers to "correct the statute book where necessary" by statutory instrument, which do not require as much  Parliamentary scrutiny.

It is right that this should be controversial because if these powers were prolonged or allowed to be used for purposes other than facilitating Britain's departure from the EU, they would represent a significant increase in power for the Executive compared with the legislature. However, ministers are adamant that there will be limits on these powers to prevent that.

In practical terms it would appear very difficult to imagine how the process of leaving the EU can be managed any other way - see next post.

Quote of the day 12th September 2017

 "I would quite happily never have a constitutional referendum in my lifetime on anything ever again".

(Ruth Davidson MSP, Scottish Conservative leader)

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Rule Britannia - Last Night of the Proms 2009

A reminder of what the "Last night of the Proms" was like before what flag you waved came to be regrettably seen by some people as a means to put yourself on the opposite side from those who take a different view about Brexit ...


Sunday music spot: Allegri's "Miserere" sung by King's, Cambridge


Labouir "dirty tricks department"

Fraser Watt - who is a Young Labour activist for London - appears to have been a busy bee.

See this link:

https://twitter.com/i/moments/905903801470558208

It would appear that he has been pushing socialist ideas and is an officer of the youth wing of the Labour party under his real name while also posing as a founder of "Activate" which is supposedly a Tory youth organisation - though it was never an official Conservative body - and in that capacity calling for Theresa May to resign and be replaced by Jacob Rees-Mogg.

If "Activate" was really founded by Tories - and the jury is still out on that - it would appear that Corbynistas have been responsible for some if not most of the material it has been putting.

It is certain that some journalists and political websites have been at best too credulous in accepting "Activate" messages as being from a Conservative organisation when it was never an official part of the Conservative party and at least some of those messages were actually part of a Labour "false flag" operation to smear Conservatives.

When the line changes ...

Less that three months ago Jeremy Corbyn sacked three pro-EU shadow ministers for voting to stay in the EU single market.

It is now suggested that he may sack shadow ministers who refuse to oppose Brexit by refusing to vote against the withdrawal bill.

It reminds me of a story told about just about every totalitarian regime in the 20th century. This is the version which was told in Soviet Russia under Stalin:

Three new inmates arrive in a Labour camp in Siberia and ask each other why they are there.

"Because yesterday I was criticising Comrade Popov" said the first. "What about you?"

"Because today I was praising Comrade Popov," said the second. They look at the third.

"I am Comrade Popov!" he replies.

Quote of the day 10th September 2017


Saturday, September 09, 2017

In memory of the late Revd. David Dixon: VOCES8 sing "Lux Aeterna"

Here is a recording of Voces8 singing "Lux Aeterna" which is a setting of "Nimrod" from Sir Edward Elgar's Enigma variations.

Announcing the piece, which Voces8 performed at a concert in Kendal this evening, a member of the group who grew up in Cumbria dedicated the performance to the late Reverend Canon David Dixon from Millom, who died this week.

It was a fantastic performance and a very moving tribute to a man who will be greatly missed.

You can read here on the North West Evening Mail website an article about a book which Canon Dixon write about his childhood in Thwaites, near Millom, in the 1930's.

Rest in Peace



Bye-bye Blowers - "There goes a legend."

England beat the West Indies by nine wickets in the third test at Lords today, and with the match also took the series.

Memorable as any victory against the West Indies at cricket is, the match will also be remembered for the final session of commentary from a one-man cricket institution, "Blowers" or to give him his full name Henry Blofeld who retired today at the age of 77 after forty seven years on air.

Here are a few memorable "Blowers" lines from the commentary box at TMS:
 
"It's a catch he would have caught 99 times times out of 1,000."

"If the tension here was a block of Cheddar cheese, you could cut it with a knife."

"Flintoff starts in, his shadow beside him. Where else would it be?"

"Ashley Giles trundles in to bowl rather like a wheelie bin."

Taking over at the end of Henry Blofeld's his last stint, Ed Smith said "There goes a legend."

Quite.

Quote of the day 9th September 2017


Friday, September 08, 2017

"Don't Know" seem to be the hardest words ...

Yougov have just released the results of a survey in which one of the questions was whether respondents had a plan to deal with a Zombie Apocalypse.

A surprising fraction of the population said that they had.

Stephen Bush in an article in the New Statesman,

"A new poll shows that men are more frightened of saying 'Don't know' than of zombies"

makes an amusing argument, but one with more than a hint of truth, that

"as far as men are concerned, the hardest words to use are 'I don’t know'.

There is actually a rational reason to be more frightened of having to say "I don't know" than of zombies.

Zombies do not exist, but situations in which one may be asked a question to which the honest answer is "I don't know" do.

Quote of the day 8th September 2017


Thursday, September 07, 2017

Who are the real "fascists"?

Among the democratic rights hard fought for by the people of this country are freedom of speech and freedom of association.

Every political party has and should have the right to hold a conference. Those of a different political persuasion have the right, should they so desire, to held a peaceful demonstration outside to promote their own views. Prior to 2015 the presence of people holding such alternative views outside Conservative conference was almost always within the limits of lawful free speech.

Conservative conference 2015 was a rather different matter and some people went over the top.

Judging by the Manchester Evening News which reports that those attending this year's Conservative conference in the city "can expect a rough welcome" we may be about to see something similar again.

Of course, some of those who were protesting just made themselves look silly - as when a friend of mine born and bred in Salford and who has been elected by the people of that City as one of their councillors was told to "go home" by people with Southern accents.

Nevertheless, there may be some this time, as there were in 2015, who need to understand the distinction between peacefully promoting your own views outside a conference, which is a democratic right, and trying to intimidate, threaten or disrupt it, which is attempting to deprive others of their democratic rights.

Although we can bet that "fascist" will probably be close behind "Tory scum" among the charming epithets thrown at representatives at the conference - and others such as cleaners, caterers, electricians, stall-holders and journalists - it is actually the people who cross the line between peaceful protest on the one hand and intimidation and disruption on the other, who are the real fascists.

I can tell you something else. That sort of protest will only strengthen the resolve of every Conservative attending the conference. And being treated like that will not make the large numbers of non-Conservatives attending - guests, stall-holders, cleaners and other staff of the organisations within the conference perimeter - any more likely to vote for the left either.

New Shipbuilding strategy announced


Quote of the day 7th September 2017

"The SNP have pinched so many Tory policies that their programme for government should be called 'Something borrowed, something blue.'"

(Ruth Davidson MSP as quoted by Stephen Daisley)

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

How many MPs does Britain need?

Before the Great Reform Act of the 1830s the boundaries for parliamentary elections were not revised for centuries, with the result that there were constituencies known as "rotten boroughs" which had once been populous but now had virtually no electors - one had disappeared under the sea - while huge new towns and cities had no representation.

To try to ensure this was never allowed to happen again, an independent Boundary Commission was established, which still exists, and a tradition was set up which lasted for decades until Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband broke it in the 2010-2015 parliament that all parties would support that commission's recommendation.

This is an issue, because the present boundaries are based on information which will be 20 years old come the next general election if the current parliament goes it's full term. If a boundary review is not passed in this parliament or in the near future British democracy will be in danger of taking the road back to rotten boroughs.

The longer the boundaries are left with no update the harder it will be to put right because the more sitting MPs will have a vested interest in not correcting it.

There was also a long-standing Conservative manifesto commitment adopted by David Cameron to reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600 and implementing this was enshrined in Boundary review legislation under the Coalition.

Unfortunately, following the row over failure to reform the House of Lords, when an elected second chamber was blocked by an unholy alliance of rebel Tory backwoodsmen and the Labour party (who pretended to be in favour of reform but actually stopped it), Nick Clegg took his revenge by joining with Ed Miliband to vote down the boundary review.

A subsequent boundary review which, had it gone through and the 2015 parliament run its full duration, would have cut the 2020 parliament to 600 MPs, was on its way through the system when the 2017 election was called.

If I were an MP and thought there was a cat in hell's chance of getting a boundary review which implemented the promise to cut the number of MPs through the House of Commons, I would consider myself honour bound to vote for it.

But with no Conservative majority, and the DUP not committed under the Confidence and Supply agreement to back boundary changes, it is unlikely that a boundary review based on 600 MPs will pass the Commons for the same reason that a cut in the number of councillors did not pass Copeland Council last week. Turkeys don't vote for Christmas.

It appears unlikely that Labour, or the Lib/Dems, or the DUP would support a boundary review on the basis of the current law and a cut in the number of MPs. I do not know the SNP position but they do not have a record of being helpful to Conservative-led governments.

This presents the government with a difficult dilemma. On the one hand they were probably tempted - I certainly would be - to try to stick to their guns and make an effort to get the present boundary review through. However, this carries the very real risk of getting nothing through at all and putting Britain on the road back to Rotten Boroughs.

The alternative - which it sounds like they have decided to adopt - is to abandon the attempt to cut the number of MPs and pass a law instructing the Boundary Commission to start again on the basis of the present size of the House of Commons, 650 MPs. This would need primary legislation but it is almost certainly possible to get both that legislation, and a 650 seat boundary review, through the Commons and the Lords.

I don't think this will be a popular move, and regret the need for it, but being pragmatic, better to try to keep the electoral boundaries up to date on the current basis, and at least get that through, than try to get both a cut in the number of MPs and a set of up-to-date boundaries but lose both.

Midweek music spot; Holst's "Turn Back O Man"


Cumbria County Council September meeting

Returned home a short while ago after the September meeting of the County Council.

(Didn't come straight home - I spent some time working at county hall before making the drive back through the lakes as I had to  catch up on some issues relating to my job.)

An interesting meeting which approved the Minerals plan and received important reports on the Youth Offender service and "corporate parenting" (e.g. the council's responsibilities towards children)

Perhaps the most contentious part of the meeting was the half hour allocated for questions from members of the council to the Leader and Cabinet,

I asked the portfolio holder for Highways about the Strategic road network in the West of the county - particularly the A595 but also other roads such as the A596, A590 and A5092.

I asked if he would agree with me that the capacity of these roads is well below the demand, with serious adverse impacts on both the economy of the entire West coast and the quality of life for residents in practically every town and village along and near them, and that it should be one of the most important priorities for the council to improve them, both in the sections we are responsible for and working with other agencies such as Highways England on the stretches they manage.

I'm not going to try to quote his reply in full but I think it would be fair to precis it as "yes".

To some people on the West coast this may seem like an exchange of obvious comments but I thought it important to keep up the pressure for action on the A595 and other key roads in the area and there is nothing like bringing up a problem at every meeting of a public body to focus minds.

An old Russian anecdote

Hat tip to Cathy Young on twitter for this old but very apposite Russian joke about the problem with Soviet Communism ...

Second quote of the day 6th September 2017

A quote in the Telegraph from former Labour MP Tom Harris on Labour's Brexit contortions,

"If Labour votes against the Repeal Bill it's because it's decided to foil Brexit."


Quote of the day 6th September 2017


Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Grants for coastal communities announced


School Bus problem in St Bees - action taken

It would appear that the school bus problems in St Bees which emerged yesterday have been resolved for now.

As I posted yesterday a number of students from St Bees who attend at West Lakes Academy were not picked up by the school bus that morning (the first day of the new term for them).

I received assurances yesterday that the issue was being dealt with and then the following message this morning from the Commissioning manager for the County Council school transport service:

"The “Fairladies” stop at St Bees had been missed yesterday morning due to a misunderstanding of route information between the Team and Stagecoach.  We had identified the stop as “Village Top” and this was not what Stagecoach understood.  The situation has now been rectified with pupils being dropped off at “Fairladies” last night and picked up this morning.  All parents who had contacted the team yesterday were telephoned back with an update by myself, or a member of my team. We have also liaised with" ... "West Lakes Academy.
 
We have, last night been advised by West Lakes Academy that a couple of parents are now unhappy with the use of a double-decker bus along the Outrigg road.  These concerns have been logged and passed onto Stagecoach.  In such instances, we do take the advice of the transport operators as to the suitability for routes and vehicles on the ground as it were.  We will monitor the situation and provide an update should this become necessary.
 
Please accept my apologies for the delay in coming back to your email more formally.  The phones and emails are exceptionally busy at the moment and are expected to be all week as we have staggered starts back to school across the county this week."

I immediately got back in touch with her to express my support for the parents who had raised concern about sending double decker buses up and down Outrigg, a road which has several huge traffic and road safety issues both for pedestrians and vehicles.

This point was taken on board and I received the following additional message at lunchtime today:

"The issue of the West Lakes Academy bus heading up Outrigg has just been resolved late this morning. Following discussion with Stagecoach they are changing their route from St Bees. The bus will now travel via the B5345 and Queens Drive between St Bees and the Academy, this will mean that the bus will pass Fairladies in both directions and will not need to travel up and down Outrigg road.  At least we no longer have a double decker bus adding to the issues on Outrigg Road."
 
Hopefully this will resolve the school bus issue but we will monitor the situation.

Quote of the day 5th September 2017




Monday, September 04, 2017

On the Brexit negotiations ...

I voted Remain myself and would prefer not to be in this situation, but I am getting a little tired with those people in certain parts of the UK media who treat everything that comes out of the European side in the Brexit negotiations as gospel truth and dismiss everything that comes out of the British side.

Look, the EU are tough negotiators. Sometimes too tough for their own good, which is one of the reasons the EU has found it so hard to negotiate trade deals. Look at the way they flattened Greece.

I  certainly never thought the negotiations for a new relationship with the remainder of the EU when Britain leaves would be easy, which is why Brexit is a process and not an event which will be magically finished in March 2019, and some sort of transitional deal may well be in Britain's best interest.

This should not be a way of trying to get out of the referendum result or sabotage Brexit, it should be as a means of trying to make it work.

But equally, anyone with a working brain should be able to recognise that some if not all of the noises coming out of Brussels disparaging the British negotiating team or position are themselves a negotiating tactic designed to put pressure on the UK government.

Take for instance the ridiculous fuss about the photograph of the negotiating teams in which the UK delegation did not have a thick pile of papers in front of them.

We have had a number of instances in British politics recently when photo-journalists got scoops because someone was carrying a pile of papers where a telephoto lens could produce a legible image of the top document. It's my understanding that many British ministers and civil servants who don't want to fall into the same trap have started carrying their papers in briefcases and leaving them in the case under the table when there are photographers around, taking them out when the meeting proper starts. It is my understanding that the UK team did indeed have plenty of papers with them, and they came out when the photographers had gone.

Those who credulously parrot everything that EU negotiators say and dismiss the accounts by the British side are not helping the UK's negotiating position. I have no problem with critical journalistic scrutiny, but it ought to be applied to both sides!

School bus problem in St Bees

There was a problem this morning with the school bus in St Bees with the result that a number of pupils were not collected and were left stranded at the pick-up point.

I will be passing on to the County officers some learning points about how initial attempts to flag up this problem were dealt with. We need to have a means for people to get some immediate action to this kind of problem.

The issue was eventually passed to the Commissioning Manager for School transport and I was assured that it would be investigated and resolved.

I trust this won't happen again, but watch this space!

Quote of the day 4th September 2017


Sunday, September 03, 2017

September meeting of Cumbria County Council

Cumbria County Council will be meeting at County Hall in Kendal at 10am on Wednesday 6th September. The full agenda and papers are available on the County Council website here but a summary of the agenda with links to some of the main documents for the meeting is as follows:


 
1.
Roll Call of Members
2.
Declarations of Interest
3.
Minutes
To confirm as a correct record the minutes of the two meetings of the Council held on 29 June 2017.
 
 
 
 
4.
Exclusion of Press and Public
To consider whether there are any items on the agenda in respect of which the press and public should be excluded during consideration of the item. (There won't be)
 
5.
 
Public Participation
To receive petitions or questions from the public under the Public Participation Scheme for the Council.  This item is time limited to 30 minutes.
 
6.
Announcements and Communications
To receive announcements from the Chair, Leader, Cabinet or the Chief Executive.
 
7.
 
The minutes of the meeting of the County cabinet held on 27 July 2017
8.
 
 
9.
 
To consider a report from the Cabinet Member for Children’s Services 
10.
 
Questions
To consider questions from Members to the Leader, a Member of the Executive or the Chair of any Committee.
11.
 
To consider a report from the Chair of the Scrutiny Management Board
 
12.
Minutes of Committees
To receive reports from Committees of the Council .
12a
 
To receive the minutes of a meeting of the Workington Harbour Board held on 20 July 2017.  Workington Harbour Board pdf icon PDF 57 KB
13.
 
To consider a report from the Cabinet Member for Children’s Services.
14.
 
Notice of Motions
None received for this meeting.
 
15.
Speeches
To hear speeches (not exceeding five minutes each) from individual members, of which at least 24 hours’ notice has been given

Sunday Music spot: Charles Wood, "Never weather-beaten sail"

These words have also been set to music by Thomas Campion and Hubert Parry. Of the three versions Parry's is probably the best known, but I do like this version by Charles Wood.





Quote of the day 3rd September 2017

"This is the secret of really effective opposition. It does not have to be entirely responsible or realistic."

(John Rentoul of the Independent in an article here.

This is the context:




I do not quote this with approval of that view, though I accept that in practical terms he may be right. But if he is, that is an indictment of the profession of political journalism.)

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Saturday music spot: Thomas Arne - Overture from Artaxerxes (1762)


Quote of the day 2nd September 2017

"If I'm on the floppy left, to be accused of racism is probably the worst thing you can call me. That fear will motivate me to step away from a lot of topics I'd maybe tackle head on if I didn't have that phobia."

(Sarah Champion in today's Times.

Champion is Labour MP for Rotherham where the independent Jay Report found that there had been failures to deal with child abuse on a very serious scale. She was sacked from Labour's front bench last month for writing a press article which attempted to address some of the very difficult issues in this area.)

Friday, September 01, 2017

When is a snub not a snub?

I wonder how many of the people who accused Jeremy Hunt of "snubbing" WCH when he was in Carlisle and didn't come to Whitehaven had agreed with Jeremy Corbyn the previous week when the Labour leader was quoted on the front page of the Whitehaven news, denying having snubbed Whitehaven by coming to Cleator Moor and not visiting Whitehaven?

Listen very carefully as this may be the only time in my life I defend Jeremy Corbyn on something:

I did not agree with accusing Corbyn of snubbing Whitehaven when he came to Cleator Moor, and did not join in.

I think it even more ridiculous to accuse Jeremy Hunt of snubbing Whitehaven when he came to visit health services in Carlisle, which is much further away from Whitehaven than Cleator Moor, particularly as one of the very reasons we have been campaigning to keep services at WCH is how long that journey takes.

If you accuse politicians of "snubbing" everywhere within an hour's journey which they don't visit when they venture away from Westminster the likely result is that they will be that much less likely to come up here at all.

When turkeys don't vote for Christmas ...

Here is a quiz with three questions.

1) Which party handed four council seats to their opponents on a plate at the last Copeland Borough Council elections in 2015 because they could not find enough candidates to stand for the council and hence failed to put up a full ticket in several wards where they previously held all the seats?

2) Which party put a three-line whip yesterday against proposals from the council's all-party executive (including their own then leader, who has resigned over the issue,) backed by independent research, to reduce the size of the same council?

3) If it is the same party, would that be what the more intellectual students of politics might call "cognitive dissonance" and those who prefer more pithy language might describe as "bonkers?"

Surprise, surprise, the answers are

1) Labour

2) Labour, and

3) Yes.

Copeland Borough Council voted yesterday on whether to recommend to the Boundary Commission that the number of councillors should be reduced from 51 to 33 as part of their boundary review. The motion was put forward by Independent Mayor Mike Starkey on behalf of the cross-party executive.

Originally this had not been handled in a party political manner but that changed when the issue came to full council and the Labour group put a three-line party whip against the proposal.

All the Conservative councillors and almost all the Independents voted for the motion but the Labour party voted solidly against and the proposal fell by 26 votes to 18.

After the meeting, Mike Starkie said:
 
“I’m disappointed that this recommendation to reduce the size of this council has been rejected – and I’m doubly disappointed that it has been rejected in a three-line whipped vote in which the majority of councillors put party politics and self-interest above an independent recommendation."
 
He added that he will still submit the independent research to the Local Government Boundary Commission (LGBG). The rules allow him to do this - it takes a two-thirds majority for the council to over-ride the mayor and the Labour don't have that.
 
“I will therefore submit the report to the LGBC that the council size should reduce to 33, supported by independent research, albeit without the support of the Labour group on the council. I thank all the non-Labour councillors who supported this,”
 
he said. The independent report recommends that the council size should be reduced from 51 to 33 councillors.

I gather that some on the Labour side took offence at one of my colleagues describing their position using the old saying about turkeys voting for Christmas.

Too bad. There are times when people take offence because someone has said something wrong, and other times when people take offence because the truth hurts. And this is one of the latter occasions.

Quote of the day 1st September 2017